A Pluralist Conception of Play
JPS Vol 37, Issue 2. pp147 – 165
The philosophical and scientific literature on play is extensive and the approaches to the study, description, and explanation of play are diverse. In this paper I intend to provide an overview of approaches to play. My interest is in describing the most fundamental categories in terms of which play is characterized, explained, and evaluated. Insofar as these categories attempt to describe what kind of reality we are talking about when we make claims about play, I hope to clarify the metaphysics of play. Once this categorical scheme is made clear, we will be in a better position to evaluate the task of definition, claims about the relation of sport and play, and assertions about the significance of play. First, I place the discussion in the context of Bernard Suits’s account of play and some other recent approaches to play. Next, I distinguish the following approaches to play: (a) play as behavior or activity; (b) play as motive, attitude, or state of mind; (c) play as form or structure; (d) play as meaningful experience; (e) play as an ontologically distinctive phenomenon. There is a natural progression in the way the analysis unfolds. In the final section I argue that my analysis generates a pluralist, nonreductive account of play.